Ten years on

Ten years and one day ago was the last time I spoke to Daren.

Daren and Paul in Paris

“They reckon I’m going to die any day now,” he told me on the phone.

“Are you?” I asked.

“No. I don’t think I’m going to die this week.”

“I have a plane ticket. I can come down tonight.”

“No. Come next week. I’m not going to die this week. Maybe I’ll die next week.”

Ten years and one day ago, I was in my office in Sydney and the man I loved was at home in his little flat in Melbourne, telling me over the phone that he would die on a day that was convenient to him and his friends, not on the day that medical science, fate, or chance ordained.

He’d been sick for such a long time at this point: we were all getting ready. It was typical of Daren that he was – or at least he seemed – the best prepared of all of us.

Daren was always like this. He managed his own and everyone else’s lives and schedules to suit his idea of what was best for all. And he was charming enough to get away with it.

Ten years and one day ago, I really thought he was going to get away with it again. It was a Tuesday, and I had to go to work the next day, but my boss knew what was happening and had told me if I needed to go at any time I could go. I had a plane ticket – an expensive, full-fare, fully flexible ticket, sitting in my bedside drawer at home. I could have gone to Melbourne that night if I’d needed to. But Daren wasn’t going to die that week; he’d told me as much, and Daren had a way of making you believe him.

One day later, ten years ago today, at about six o’clock in the evening, I was at home in my flat in Bondi when the call came. Daren’s ex-partner Brian had the unfortunate job of passing on the unfortunate news.

I’d known Brian for as long as I’d known Daren – they were still together when Daren and I met, when Daren was 19 and I was 20. We were just kids really. The first time I came down to Melbourne to see Daren, I stayed in their house in Thornbury and Brian caught the two of us having sex. There was a drama at the time but this was already ancient history ten years ago.

As soon as I recognised Brian’s voice I knew what was coming. He had no other reason to call.

“Daren died a half hour ago,” he said.

I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, if there was any more. I suppose he told me that Daren had passed away peacefully, with his parents and several friends around him, but I don’t remember.

After I put the phone down I walked into the living room where my flatmate, Paul, was watching TV. “He’s dead,” I said, and I sat down on the sofa. Shell-shocked.

“Are you OK?” Paul asked.

“No,” I said. “not really.”

Ten years later, I’m back in Melbourne. I live here now. Daren has been gone for a long time. I still miss him, of course, but I don’t think of him too much. There’s a few photos of him around the place, and every now and again he pops into my consciousness, but not a lot. That’s as it should be: we owe the dead the honour of remembrance, but I don’t think they appreciate it if we hold on to them too tightly.

Ten years ago, I didn’t think I’d still be here in ten years’ time. Or five. Maybe two.

Ten years ago, that’s how it was: we were all so keenly aware of our mortality as the people we loved were being taken from us with terrible frequency.

It seems so long ago, but it’s only been ten years.